Basic Biographical Details

Name: Robert Kerr
Designation: Architect
Born: 17 January 1823
Died: 21 October 1904
Bio Notes: Robert Kerr was born in Aberdeen on 17 January 1823 and apprenticed to John Smith c.1838. At the end of his apprenticeship he emigrated to New York and set up practice there. He does not seem to have prospered, returning to Britain in 1844 in Mark Girouard's words 'full of American bounce'. Shortly thereafter he set up practice in London and as a self-publicising venture wrote 'The Newleafe Discourses on The Fine Art Architecture' ' a noisy and irreverent book of architectural essays' (Girouard again) published in 1846. In the following year, 1847, he was one of the founders of the Architectural Association and its first president in 1847-48. Within the next few years his self-assertive combative personality and ability to think fast on his feet saw a steady rise in his professional status. In 1851-52 he published a series of articles in the 'Builder entitled 'Architecturus to his son'. In 1852 he won the competition for the Earlswood at Reigate; in 1861 he was appointed Professor of the Arts of Construction at King's College; in 1862 District Surveyor of St James; and by 1864 he had managed to assemble a sufficient selection of plans from the leaders of the profession - illicitly in the case of Burn, leading to a damaging complaint to the RIBA - to publish 'The Gentleman's House' in 1864, a work which codified its planning and design and ran to several editions, culminating in the enlarged edition of 1871. Together with frequent contributions to 'The Builder' and the 'Transactions of the RIBA', of which he was a prominent council member, those offices and publications brought a number of important country house commissions, notably Dunsdale, Kent 1858, Great Blake, Essex 1860, Bear Wood, Berkshire, 1865-74, Ford Manor, Surrey 1868 and Ascot Heath 1868.

His practice did not prosper, however, in later years because of lack of respect for clients, complaints to the RIBA about the conduct of other members in relation to his several lawsuits, bad costing and requests for additional percentage on his commission. Throughout his career Kerr was an indefatigable competitor at home and abroad, but after his initial success at Earlswood, he remained unplaced except at the South Kensington Museum in 1864 when his design was placed first.

Kerr's last major book was 'The Consulting Architect: Practical Notes on Administrative Difficulties' - a subject of which he had much experience - in 1886. He had to retire from his chair at King's in 1890 but continued to lecture at the Architectural Association in 1892-96. In 1891 he edited James Ferguson's 'History of the Modern Styles of Architecture', volumes 4 and 5 in 'A History of Architecture in All Countries'; in 1893 a long article 'The Problem of National American Architecture' in 'The Architectural Record', volume 3; and in 1899 four chapters of F W Andrews's 'The Principles and Practice of Modern Home Construction'.

Kerr had to resign the District Surveyor of St James in 1902 but remained in practice at Berwick House 139 Oxford Street until his death on 21 October 1904. The practice was continued by his son Robert Henry Kerr who had been articled to him in 1876, had remained as assistant and appears to have been taken into partnership in 1886.

Other publications of note:

'English Architecture Thirty Years Hence', a paper to the General Conference of Architects, 9 May 1884, published in the Transactions of the RIBA XXXIV, 1883-83. (Republished in Pevsner 'Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century' as Appendix I).

Obituary of John Ruskin, JRIBA, 3rd series, volume VII, 1900, pp181-188.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 2Berwick House/139, Oxford Street, London, EnglandBusiness1904 *  
Item 2 of 231, Cathcart Road, Kensington, London, EnglandPrivate1904 *  

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1John Smithc. 1838   

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 4John Thomas Bresseyc. 1864Before 1867Assistant 
Item 2 of 4Robert Henry Kerr1876c. 1881Apprentice 
Item 3 of 4Robert Henry Kerrc. 18811886Assistant 
Item 4 of 4Robert Henry Kerr1886(?)1904(?)Partner(?) 


RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 9Williiam Henry Arber4 December 1893for Fellowship
Item 2 of 9Horatio Kelson Bromhead27 May 1872for Associateship
Item 3 of 9Patrick James Byrne9 January 1882for Associateship
Item 4 of 9James Crombie9 January 1882for Associateship
Item 5 of 9Henry Hall2 December 1872for Associateship
Item 6 of 9John Honeyman14 December 1874for Fellowship
Item 7 of 9Alexander Marshall Peebles8 April 1867for Associateship
Item 8 of 9James Souttar3 April 1865for Associateship
Item 9 of 9John Watt8 June 1885for Associateship

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 11864Bear Wood  BerkshireEnglandOriginal house


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 7British Architectural Library, RIBA2001Directory of British Architects 1834-1914   
Item 2 of 7Crook, J Mordaunt1984Architecture and historyv XXVII, 1984Design and practice in British architecture, Architectural History vXXVII, 1984, pp554-578pp563-566
Item 3 of 7DNB Dictionary of National Biography   
Item 4 of 7Girouard, Mark1979The Victorian Country House   
Item 5 of 7Mace, Angela1938'British Architectural Library: architecture in manuscript' RIBA Journal 12 September 1938 
Item 6 of 7Pevsner, Nikolas Some architectural writers of the nineteenth century  p217-221
Item 7 of 7Summerson, John The Architectural Association, 1847-1947   

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 5Architectural Association NotesNovember 1904v19  
Item 2 of 5Architecture & Building News (USA)21 October 1904   
Item 3 of 5Builder23 October 1869  p846 - portrait
Item 4 of 5Builder29 October 1904   
Item 5 of 5RIBA Journal12 November 1904 London: Royal Institute of British Architectspp14-15 Obituary

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Additional information from Martin Griffiths via the website.
Item 2 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers F v3 (missing)